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The 9 best travel credit cards in Canada for 2021

Reading up on credit cards? Wondering what’s the best card for me? In under 60 seconds, CardFinder narrows down your top matches without impacting your credit score, no SIN required

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Travel can be expensive, but a good travel credit card can help offset the cost — or help you travel for free — by rewarding you points or miles for making everyday purchases.

In addition to earning points that can be redeemed for everything from flight tickets and hotel stays to cruises, vacation packages and more, several travel cards also offer side perks including access to airport lounges, welcome bonus offers, and travel insurance that can further help you save on travel.

To help you decode the ins and outs of travel rewards programs, we’ve rounded up the best travel credit cards in Canada for 2021.

The best travel cards for
  • all reward types
  • cash back
  • store credit
  • travel
with
  • any annual fee
  • no annual fee
CardBest used forAnnual feeRewards
Featured
American Express Cobalt® Card
Purchase interest: 20.99%, Cash advance: 21.99%, Balance transfer: N/A

Groceries & dining

$156

  • 5 pts/$1 for groceries, restaurants
  • 2 pts/$1 for gas, travel
  • 1 pts/$1 for other
Featured
Brim Mastercard
Purchase interest: 19.99%, Cash advance: 21.50%, Balance transfer: 19.99%

Everyday spending

$0

  • 1% all everyday purchases
  • 3% eligible airlines
  • 4% select retailers*
Featured
Scotiabank Passport™ Visa Infinite* Card
Purchase interest: 19.99%, Cash advance: 22.99%, Balance transfer: 22.99%

Travel perks

$139

  • 2 pts/$1 for entertainment, groceries, restaurants, daily transit
  • 1 pts/$1 for other
Featured
TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card
Purchase interest: 19.99%, Cash advance: 22.99%, Balance transfer: 22.99%

Aeroplan Points

$139

  • 1.5 pts/$1 for eligible, gas, groceries and Air Canada purchases.
  • 1 pts/$1 for everything else

Best travel credit cards in Canada for 2021 - by category

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Best overall travel credit card

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Best airline credit card

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Best no fee travel credit card

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Best Visa card for dining and transit

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Best travel credit cards for overseas travel

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Also consider: 

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Best no foreign transaction fee credit cards

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Best travel credit card for Costco / online shopping

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Honourable mentions

 

Best hotel credit card

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Best Air Miles credit card

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Best credit card for travel insurance

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Best credit card for flexible travel points

Find the best credit cards without impacting your credit score

Apply with confidence. In under 60 seconds, CardFinder narrows down your top matches without impacting your credit score, no SIN required.

What are travel credit cards?

Whether you're frequently flying for business, a global adventure enthusiast, or just someone who appreciates a well-timed vacation, keeping a travel credit card in your wallet is a great decision.

Travel credit cards make your time abroad easier by giving you the ability to earn reward points (redeemable for travel purchases such as flights and accommodation) and enjoy perks such as complimentary baggage check and access to airport lounges. Travel credit cards also often come with extensive travel insurance for events such as lost/delayed baggage, trip cancellation, and more.

Overview: Travel credit card point values

Working out exactly how much a travel point is worth can be tricky – especially when considering there are well over a dozen major travel loyalty and frequent flyer programs in the country that each operate according to their own rules. To help simplify things, we’ve broken the value per point in dollars for some of the largest programs in Canada when redeeming for travel.

Rewards programValue of 1 travel point
Scotia Rewards$0.01
AMEX  Membership Rewards$0.01
Or up to $0.015-$0.017 through AMEX’s Fixed Points Program
TD Rewards$0.005 on the ExpediaforTD website
BMO Rewards$0.0067
MBNA Rewards$0.01
Marriott Bonvoy$0.0117 (Specifically hotel stays)
Air Miles$0.121 on avg.
CIBC Aventura$0.0116 on avg.
RBC Avion1 point = $0.01
Or $0.0114 on avg.

The point values above are exclusively for travel redemptions like flights and hotel stays (as opposed to the value you’d get when redeeming points for cash back, merchandise, or gift cards). For some programs, we’ve also provided the estimated average value – such as in the case of Aeroplan, CIBC Aventura, and Air Miles – since points values in these programs can fluctuate depending on which part of the world you’re flying to and when.

How to choose a travel credit card

With Canadians enjoying more choice thanks to an ever-growing array of travel credit cards, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to pick the one that works best for you. Luckily, by educating yourself about a few key features, it can be easier to select the card that matches your needs and spending habits the most. Here are some important things to consider:

Sign-up bonus

  • While bigger is generally better when it comes to sign-up bonuses, consider whether the card is the right fit for you in the long run. Simply put, don’t let an offer alone sway you into picking a particular card since you’ll likely keep it even after the offer ends.
  • You’ll also want to get familiar with the terms of the sign-up offer, as you may need to hit a minimum spend within a specific time frame in order to qualify for the bonus (i.e. making at least $1,000 in purchases on the card within the first three months of opening your account).

Earn rate

There are two kinds of earn rates:

  • 1. A flat earn rate that offers the same number of points across the board for all types of spending – ideal for those who prefer simplicity and whose spending doesn’t skew to particular categories.
  • 2. Bonus earn rate that offers a higher return on specific categories like gas, groceries, or dining. To maximize rewards, you should ensure that any revved-up bonus categories match your spending patterns.

Flexibility

  • General travel cards offer great flexibility by letting you redeem miles or points for a range of items, including flights on any airline — an ideal option if you don’t favour a particular carrier.
  • Co-branded cards only let you redeem points with select partners, however, they often feature airline or hotel-specific benefits and perks typically not available on cards that aren’t affiliated with a specific loyalty program (i.e. free checked bags and discounts on companion flights).

Perks and benefits

  • While not as eye-catching as a big welcome bonus, perks can save you lots of money and make flying or hotel stays more enjoyable.
  • Important benefits to look out for include insurance (like medical, lost baggage, and hotel theft), rental car discounts, and airport lounge access.
  • Evaluate the relevance and value of a card’s perks by anticipating how often you’ll actually use them.

Annual fee

  • The majority of premium travel cards come with an annual fee averaging $120.
  • You’ll want to assess whether the card’s rewards and money-saving perks (like travel insurance) will help you come out ahead and offer more value than the annual fee (consider testing out our handy credit card calculator here).

Eligibility requirements

  • The top travel cards tend to have specific income and credit score requirements (typically around $60,000 and 650 respectively).
  • Ensure you fit the requirements rather than applying blind because a hard check on your credit rating could decrease your score by up to 10 points. The best course of action is to research if a card has an income requirement and check your credit score before you apply (note: unlike when a card issuer or bank inquires about your score, checking your own credit score won’t impact it in any way).

 


How to maximize your travel credit card’s rewards

There’s more to making the most of your travel credit card than just charging all of your purchases on it. With a little know-how and effort, cardholders can boost the benefits of any reward card.

1. One of the main ways to maximize your travel credit card (or any credit card for that matter) is to use it responsibly by paying off the balance in full each and every month. All the bonuses and benefits in the world won’t make up for the hundreds of dollars in potential interest charges you could add to your balance if you don’t pay it off in full every month. Not to mention the hit your credit score could take if you have a negligent repayment history. If you consistently carry a balance, a low interest credit card or one with a generous balance transfer option would likely be a better fit.

2. Travel credit cards are geared mostly towards travel redemptions. Though you can often use points or miles for statement credits, merchandise or gift cards, these options typically offer less value for your points than they would if redeemed for flight or hotel redemptions. For example, Scotia Rewards Points are worth $0.01 if you redeem them for travel, but lose about a third of their value if you redeem them for a statement credit. Generally speaking, if you don’t travel much yet want to reap significant rewards, it’s likely that you’ll get more bang for your buck with a cash back credit card instead.

3. Be a double-dipper. Sure, no one likes a double dipper when it comes to chips and dip, but the practice can up your rewards game by letting you earn additional rewards from an airline or hotel loyalty program when you use your travel credit card. For example, if you carry an Aeroplan credit card, you’ll earn bonus miles when shopping on the Aeroplan Estore, super-charging your point accumulation.

 


Different travel redemption models

There are three main redemption models by which travel credit cards operate, with each having its own level of difficulty in terms of ease of use. Some rewards programs, like American Express Rewards, even let you access multiple models.

  • Consistent points: This is when the points you earn have a consistent value and don’t fluctuate based on when or where you’re flying to. Scotia Rewards Points, for instance, always equal $0.01 when redeemed for travel. These consistent models are appealing because of their simplicity and transparency (i.e. it’s easy to determine the exact value of your rewards).
  • Fluctuating points: In this type of model, rewards don’t have a consistent value and change depending on where you go (as with Aeroplan) and possibly when you travel (as with Marriott Bonvoy, which recently introduced peak and off-peak point values). These models are usually based on charts and tables that cardholders must consult to know the value of their points. These programs are harder to understand and determining the value of your points isn’t as straightforward. That said, if you’re willing to do the research, they can offer unique and more generous redemption opportunities, such as far cheaper business class tickets or stays at ultra-premium hotels that might not normally be affordable.
  • Point transfers: Another interesting, if complex, point redemption model is when some cards let you transfer points from one rewards program to another. Marriott Bonvoy, for example, lets cardholders transfer Bonvoy points to the loyalty programs of over 40 airlines. Yes, you’ll have to put in some time to figure out the transfer ratio, but if you play it right, you can use this advantage to earn more points from one program and redeem them for a higher value by transferring them to another program.

 


Credit card travel insurance

While many of us will happily devote endless hours to deciding what attractions and restaurants to hit on an upcoming vacation, few of us give as much attention to another crucial element of a successful trip: travel insurance.

Luckily, there are many travel credit cards (especially premium cards that carry an annual fee) that offer travel insurance as a key perk. While the variety, monetary amounts and eligibility qualifications (like age) tend to vary, overall a travel credit card’s insurance offerings can be one of its most attractive benefits. That’s because buying travel insurance on your own could otherwise cost you around 4% to 10% of your total trip, meaning that a comprehensive insurance package could save you hundreds of dollars. Of course, those savings can exponentially increase if you need to make a claim.

 

Types of credit card coverage

Many of the best travel credit cards in Canada offer more than a dozen types of insurance, ranging from hotel burglary to trip interruption and delayed baggage coverage. The card and coverage that works best for you will depend on your travel needs. Here’s a look at some of the main types of insurance.

 

  • Out-of-Province travel emergency medical

While your province’s healthcare plan will generally cover doctor and hospital visits within its borders, most provincial plans cover very little for medical issues when you venture outside – within Canada or internationally. That’s where out-of-province travel emergency insurance comes in.

This insurance will cover claims for any injuries or illness (like a hospital stay, the care of a private nurse and major dental expenses) up to a certain amount – usually around $1 million.

Take note that pre-existing conditions usually won’t be covered. Age plays a large part in emergency medical coverage too. For those under 65, some cards may cover as much as 20 days or more. Unfortunately for those 65 and over, many insurers offer as few as four days of coverage or no coverage at all – though there are exceptions.

As this is the most crucial and expense-offsetting kind of insurance most travellers will need, it’s essential to contact your credit card company to ensure you’re fully informed about what conditions are covered or excluded.

 

  • Travel accident coverage

Similar to emergency medical insurance, travel accident insurance specifically covers you for dismemberment or loss of life sustained while on a common carrier (i.e. plane, train etc). In the case of death, your spouse or estate would receive the payout. Claims include medical emergencies like loss of limbs, sight and hearing.

 

  • Travel Interruption / cancellation coverage

Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance are slightly different.

For trip cancellation, you’re only covered from the moment you book the trip until you depart. For this policy, your credit card insurance will reimburse the non-refundable portion of your trip (like your flight) up to a max amount. Be aware that you can’t just cancel your travel for any reason. You’ll only be reimbursed for specific cases like illness, a death in the family, and travel advisory to avoid non-essential travel.

Trip interruption insurance, however, kicks in once the trip starts and applies until travel is completed. It covers you up to a fixed amount for non-refundable expenses (like pre-paid accommodation) when you have to cut a trip short. Acceptable reasons for not completing a trip include severe weather conditions and serious injury or illness that makes you or your travel companion unfit for travel.

 

  • Flight delay insurance

This insurance protects you from unexpected expenses related to a delayed flight. Possible causes of delay include bad weather or striking employees. Reimbursements can include meals and hotel expenses. Payout amounts differ per card.

 

  • Lost/delayed baggage

Delayed baggage insurance covers the cost (to a maximum reimbursement amount) of essential items like clothing if your checked baggage is delayed for a specific period of time, usually four hours or longer.
Lost baggage insurance reimburses you up to a set amount for lost personal property if your checked bag is lost by a common carrier (like airlines).

 

  • Rental car collision loss/damage

Collision and damage insurance covers you for costs related to a damaged or stolen rental vehicle. It only applies to your specific rental car and does not cover harm to other cars, people or property (for which you would need to purchase liability insurance). For collision and damage insurance to come into effect, you must decline the rental company’s optional collision damage waiver. Collision/damage insurance can easily cost $20 a day, making this credit card benefit a real money saver. Note that exclusions can include luxury cars, motorcycles, RVs and more.

  • Hotel/motel burglary

Hotel/motel burglary insurance covers the cost of belongings that are stolen while you’re checked in at a property. You’ll only be reimbursed up to a predetermined amount. This form of insurance often includes a variety of exclusions, like a proviso that the hotel/motel must be in Canada or the US, and that the cardholder must charge the full cost of the accommodation to the card. This credit card insurance perk is one of the rarest in Canada.

 

Important things to know about travel insurance

To get the most out of your credit card travel insurance, it’s vital to read the fine print. There’s an array of exclusions, eligibility requirements and compensation amounts. Here are some key points:

  • For the insurance to kick in, requirements vary. You’ll usually need to charge anywhere from 75% to 100% of the cost of your trip to your card.
  • As noted above, coverage only lasts for a specific number of days depending on your age. Those 65 and older are usually only offered very limited (if any) coverage. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for extra travel days.
  • Most credit card insurance plans will cover not only the policyholder but also eligible travel companions like a spouse and dependent children. Check with your provider who is covered and for what specific monetary amounts.
  • Time can be crucial when making a claim. For example, many companies insist on being alerted beforehand (unless in extremely urgent circumstances) of any medical procedures like major surgeries. Many also have a set period in which a claim must be made, such as within three months of the event, or coverage will be forfeit.

Also read:

How do travel credit cards work?

What credit card is the best for travel?

Do all credit cards have travel insurance?

Do you need a credit card to travel?

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